How to Prepare Your Home for Sale and Get Top Dollar

At some point, you may consider putting your house on the market. Now is a great time to do a little preparation work to get it ready to show to potential buyers. Sometimes the little details make all the difference—and get you your asking price. With some careful planning, a little elbow grease, and just a little bit of maintenance know-how, you can make your home shine. We put together a helpful list on how to prepare your home for sale and get top dollar for it.

Whether the market is flooded with an excess inventory of homes for sale—or you have buyers knocking down your doors—preparing your home for sale can really help get you top dollar. We came up with a list of things you can do to help your home stand out from the crowd.

Given that our home is only 8 years old, it only had minimal repairs that were needed. Since I’m a tool guy, I already do plenty of preventive maintenance. With that said, knowing how to prepare your home for sale is the most important thing you can do to get top dollar. At its core—you want your home tidy and clean. Doing this costs very little and just takes some targeted effort.

How to Prepare the Outside of Your Home for Sale

Since we are actually going through this process of trying to sell our home, we figured that the best thing to do is cover what we have done to prepare it for sale. To start we made two lists, one was to cover the outside of the home and the other took care of the inside. On our initial walk around the outside of the house, there were a number of things that jumped out to us as needing some attention.

A good way to think about it is this: If someone does not like the outside of your home, chances are that they are not going to get out of the car to see the inside! Curb appeal plays a big part in preparing your home for sale.

Following is our actual prioritized list for our home’s exterior:

Pressure Wash Siding, Sidewalks, and the Driveway

We hadn’t washed our home in over three years. Pressure washing the siding, sidewalks, and driveway probably did more for the curb appeal than anything else we did. Nice clean siding and a grime-free driveway can make a house look almost new. As far as a time commitment, it takes about half a Saturday to pressure wash an average-sized house and associated. concrete. Double that if you don’t know how to use a pressure washer before.

Simpson 3200psi Pressure Washer07

Editor’s Note: Read our best pressure washer reviews article if you want to find out which models we specifically recommend.

Wash Your Windows

Windows tend to get ignored. I have a friend who even lt the stickers on his for over a decade. Embarrassing—mostly because it’s so easily resolved. Take a day and wash the outside of your windows using soap and water. Use a squeegee to dry them off. It may take a little elbow grease, but getting rid of cobwebs, old mud dauber nests, and other dirt helps your windows look new again.

Touch Up Any White Trim (After Washing the House)

Before painting, you want to follow our recommendation above and pressure wash the exterior of your home. That helps clear away any dirt or grime that would interfere with the new paint getting good adhesion to your home. We recommend any of a number of detergents when cleaning your home, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Simple Green Oxy Solve Pressure Washer Cleaner ~$22/gal – Buy Now
  • Karcher Pressure Washer Multi-Purpose Cleaning Soap Concentrate ~$18/gal – Buy Now
  • Sun Joe All-Purpose Heavy Duty Pressure Washer Cleaner + Degreaser ~$20/gal – Buy Now

After that, pick out a good-quality white exterior paint and touch up your trim. That includes wood porch railings, window trim, and any corner or eave trim around your home.

freshly painted trim
While vinyl trim might only need a good washing, wood porch railings and accent pieces typically require a coat of fresh paint to brighten them up.

Replace Exterior Light Bulbs As Needed

check bulbs in your porch lights and garage lights

It might be your front porch or carriage lights next to your garage. Make sure all exterior lights and bulbs are working at 100%. A broken or dimmed light can signal to a prospective homeowner that the home wasn’t well cared for or it may even spook them into thinking you have an electrical issue when you really don’t.

While technically inside—also make sure the lights in your garage are operational—including the one on your opener.

Apply a Fresh Coat of Stain (or Paint) to Wood Fences

paint stain picket fence

Fences matter. We’ve removed dilapidated fences on homes where they detracted from the home due to decay. If your home has a wood fence, consider painting or staining it to bring back its charm. Fenced-in yards bring value as they allow for containment of both pets and children—a big deal to some prospective home buyers.

When you prepare your home for sale, don’t forget that this item might add significant value to the property. Help a buyer understand they can keep and use an existing fence. That saves them tons of money in comparison to installing one themselves!

Clean Out the Dryer Vent

Cleaning out your dryer vent regularly could save you from a catastrophe. According to FEMA, nearly 3,000 dryer fires get reported each year. Of these, an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss occur.

A clean dryer vent communicates that you maintain your home and you care about it. It’s also one less thing to deal with when the inevitable home inspection occurs during the sales process.

Pick up and Store Outdoor Kids Toys

When preparing your home for sale, make the outside of your home presentable. That means picking up after your kids and putting away anything a prospective homebuyer might perceive as “clutter”.

Landscaping Recommendations to Prepare Your Home for Sale

Raking leaves, watering your lawn to green it up, and keeping hedges trimmed matter. If you live in the South, make sure palm trees have been nicely tidied up. You may not need to spend a lot of money on landscaping, but it may take some elbow grease and planning. When preparing our home for sale, our grand total for the flowers, mulch, and water came to less than $100.

touch up landscaping before house sale
This home has the elements of some great landscaping. However, out-of-control hedges and trees detract from what could be a truly beautiful front yard.

Good outside landscaping doesn’t require adding new features like decks, patios, and hedges. You may get away with some fresh plants and flower beds and freshening up what you already have.

Put Fresh Cypress, Pine, or Bark Mulch in Flower Beds

To really help your landscaping pop, help prepare your home for sale by laying down some fresh mulch. We favor black mulch over red, but it really has a lot to do with your landscaping and the color of your home. You can find excellent solutions from Scotts and others at your local home improvement warehouse, nursery, or garden center.

Prepare the Inside of Your Home for Sale

The next major thing to tackle would be the interior of the house. There is a plethora of information, ideas, and strategies for what to do when prepping a home. Following is a walk-through from our experience that gives you a sense of what you might want to pay attention to:

Repair or Patch Drywall Nail Pops, Cracks, and Other Damage

Nothing bothers people more than thinking a structural issue exists due to cracks in drywall. Often, it simply has to do with expansion or settling. Other times you just have some nail pops that need fixing. In either case, grab some spackle and smooth it out.

Wall Paint Touch-Ups

Hand-in-hand with repairing any drywall issues comes painting—particularly touch-ups. While we don’t think you need to repaint the whole interior of your home, you do want to smooth out any obvious issues.

Look for areas that might have been scuffed from use or which simply show their age. Hallways or outside corners in living areas typically have dings and stains from years of serving as bumpers or handholds for kids and adults alike.

how to prepare your home for sale using paint

If an area is particularly dirty—or simply “blah”, consider giving the whole wall a fresh coat of paint. While we don’t recommend going with any controversial colors, earth tones and grays typically won’t offend anyone and can lend some contrast to trim, windows, and doorways.

Trim Paint Touch-Ups

Whenever you look at a home, the trim (both interior and exterior) set off the color of the house and can either help it “pop” or fade it into the background. Gain, like our exterior trim recommendation above, you can instantly freshen up the look of your interior by applying a new coat of trim paint to your baseboards and window sills.

Clean Areas Around Switch Plates, Door Handles, and High Traffic Spots

Some areas might be dirty and not require paint. Areas around commonly-used switch plates, outlets, door handles, and other high-use areas tend to get grimy and dirty. Take some soapy water and a damp (not soaking wet) cloth and clean these areas to get them back to looking new.

cleaning doorknobs handles

We’ve seen some miracles happen with a magic eraser and some elbow grease. Just be careful on painted walls and other surfaces that you don’t remove the base paint—or you may need to do some additional touch-up work.

Replace Interior Bulbs As-Needed

I remember visiting a friend of mine’s home. They had—almost as if it were on purpose—an eclectic mix of lightbulbs throughout their home. Incandescent, LED, fluorescent…all in different color temperatures. The dining room chandelier light alone had a yellow 2700K bulb, a white 4000K bulb, and something so blue in color I thought it was an accent light.

how much kitchen remodeling ideas raise home value
When you have a lot of different lights in adjoining spaces, be sure to match the color temperature.

Ensure your bathroom vanities, can lights, and dining room hanging lights all have the same color temperature bulbs. A nice consistent true white liven up the house and gives a more professional look to any space. Some spaces fare better with a more yellow tint—such as studies, libraries, and other areas where you want to cast a more quiet or intimate feel.

Clean Appliances, Straighten Pantries and Cupboards

Get and keep all of your appliances clean (like your oven). Remove fingerprints from your stainless appliances and glass microwave doors. Straighten up your pantry and ensure any glass door cabinets look great from the outside.

Bosch 800 Series French Door Refrigerator Home Connect

Consider removing all of those personal photos from the side of the fridge as well. You want your prospective buyer(s) to think of your home as theirs when they walk through it.

Remember, people love to poke around and look inside things. If they look like they are in a disarray or not organized, chances are it will convey that there is not enough space for their stuff either.

Think about a buyer checking out the closets and cabinets in your home and they see everything in its place. They will undoubtedly think that you are just as organized and took just as good care of the rest of your home. Silly things like hanging shirts together, with them, all buttoned and facing the same direction, lining up shoes, and neatly stacking dishes really say a lot more than you can imagine.

Repair Cracked Tiles in Bathrooms and Floors

While this might be a bit tougher of a project than most want to tackle, replacing cracked tiles doesn’t take a ton of effort. The process looks like this:

  1. Break up the old tile in place using a hammer (use eye protection)
  2. Remove all of the broken pieces
  3. Scrape and sand down the underlying thinset using an oscillating multitool
  4. Dry fit the replacement piece to ensure a good fit
  5. Add new thinset
  6. Replace the tile—be sure to level and space it properly
  7. 24 hours later, grout the tile to blend it in
cracked floor tile

Tighten Doorknobs and Make Sure All Doors Close and Latch Properly

People tend to open and close doors when looking through a house. Be sure that none of your doors stick. You also want to make sure all of the latches catch properly. You don’t want any doors that don’t “click” closed when you pull them to. You also don’t want to have to slam any doors to get them to work.

Jiggly doorknobs can typically be fixed with a screwdriver. If you have an internal mechanical issue, consider replacing it.

Clean or Replace Dirty Grout

If you have a tile floor that looks really dirty no matter what you do, consider cleaning the grout. Clean grout makes a floor look new again.

In some cases, however, you simply can’t undo what years of dirt and grime have wrought. When that happens, we recommend replacing the grout. While you don’t want to do this for 1000 square feet of flooring, it can really help in small kitchens, bathrooms, and mud rooms where you have a limited amount of space.

Replacing grout doesn’t necessarily mean removing every bit of grout from the floor—you just need to get it down low enough that you can add new grout on top and get a nice, clean look. Having done this several times, I’ve found the greatest tool to be either a one-handed reciprocating saw equipped with a grout-out blade or an oscillating multitool with a carbide grout removal blade.

Remove Clutter

Part of “cleaning” is to make sure that you pick up and de-clutter your home. Some of us can collect an amazing quantity of “stuff” over time. The rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used it in over a year, you probably don’t need it. And if you don’t need it, why not have a garage sale, donate it, or throw it away?

If you are listing your home with a real estate agent, be sure to ask them for their opinions as well for things that you should fix, paint or repair.

More Money or Elbow Grease?

While we could go point by point down our list, again we are pretty sure that this list would apply to most homes in some way or another. As we made our list, we quickly realized that it involved more elbow grease than money for the repairs. Our total for light bulbs, household cleaners, drywall compound, sanding sponge, tile mortar and grout, trim paint, and a few other small odds and ends was just under $100 bucks. It really took more of an investment of time—rather than money—to scratch these items off our list.

Make sure to do all the minor repairs that you can. Chances are that a home inspector will make notes on all kinds of things (this is his job, after all). There is no reason to make an inspection report longer than it needs to be since it could not only scare off a potential buyer but also make it so that you don’t get top dollar for your home.

One Final Recommendation to Prepare Your Home for Sale

The last thing to focus on is to make your home shine, and by that, we mean to give it some life. Pull back your curtains, lift the blinds, and let the sunlight come in. Allowing natural light to come into your home makes it a more inviting, bright, and open feel. Along with this, make sure that it is clean, tidy, and inviting. With record numbers of homes on the market, small details can really help make a difference.

Buyers are more discriminating and with that comes certain expectations. Doing your homework and putting your time in preparation will pay off in the long run because your home can have a distinct advantage over that stuffy foreclosure or that second home that goes unoccupied most of the time.

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